More on iCal Server

December 30, 2008

I would like to take this opportunity to vent some steam over Apple iCal Server. I was going to simply file a bug about this, but even that didn’t work. :-/

iCal error

Yeah, that’s what I get for some groups after the 10.5.6 server update. “domain CalDAV No Calendar Home Error / code 1” - WTF!!!! And the web is full of these reports. I can browse the principal just fine from a web browser at https://server:8443/principals/groups/whatever/ but iCal just won’t work.

“Solutions” range from anything re-creating the group to down-grading your OD Master to Standalone and then back up again.

And can you guess what “fixed” it for me? That’s right - just wait for about 10 minutes and keep pushing the “Add” button until it finally goes through. Yeah, I know…

10.5 in general has been the most difficult server upgrade Apple has ever gone through (if you look close there’s actually a lot more changes in server than client this time), but iCal Server has been particularly problematic. Here’s a list of things that are wrong with iCal server:

  • Documentation. The entire iCal Server Administration guide is 35 pages long!!! What the heck is Apple thinking? To bring a completely new product to market, which will obviously have many faults and missing features and then not even have the courtesy to explain them??? In addition to a technical admin guide (which should be more like 200 pages), they should have also some-kind of workflow document with different scenarios of how the calendar server can be used. Most companies will come from having no calendaring system at all so they need help with not only setting things up, but using a calendar in the first place.
  • Mobile syncing. You won’t find this anywhere in the marketing materials, but the syncing features you get with iCal Server are extremely limited. You can’t sync group calendars at all and you can only “upload” your personal network calendars - i.e. you can sync events created on your phone only to your local calendars!!!. As a matter of fact, none of the delegated calendars show up in iSync. Mention this to your sales-force before deciding to go with iCal Server!
  • The way that group calendars are managed doesn’t make any sense. You can’t just configure each user’s group calendars, but have to configure the group account on some machine directly into iCal and then delegate rights to all the people who should have access to it. So you want to manage this centrally, you will have some Calendar Administrator account, that has to be a member of every group which is then used to set up the accounts and delegates. And don’t forget to enable email for this account, because you will get a lot of bounced mail if you use the new group-based mailing-list feature. You also have to remember to create a delegate every time a new user is created since simply adding them to the group does nothing. Kludgy.
  • Delegation can get very messy if you have say more than 10 users. You can’t delegate entire groups, so if you want to have every user see any other user’s calendar in your organisation of 50 people, each one of those 50 will have add 50 delegates to iCal.
  • Access control is very limited. When you assign someone as your delegate, you have no control over which calendars he/she can see - they get instant access to every calendar and todo. Try to explain to your user why they can’t have a “Work” and “Home” calendar so that their boss only sees the first one.
  • The web calendar is very much broken. To this day (remember, server is already at 10.5.6!), only the first occurrence of a repeating event will ever be shown in the web calendar.
  • Weird data store. Instead of using a database for calendar metadata, Apple chose to use extended attributes to keep track of such trivial things as who can access what calendar. Why? So that more admins would break their calendar servers by using a backup tool that doesn’t preserve those attributes.
  • Invites. Everyone is used to getting an invitation via email. iCal Server doesn’t do this - instead it hides it in the iCal application itself. This also has the side effect of not being able to invite people outside your LDAP.
  • Can’t create calendars under delagates, but can delete them(!). Try to explain to your users why they can’t create a project calendar under their group calendar…

These are just some things off the top of my head. You can find many more at Apple Discussions. AFP548 even did a special post on basically the same subject.

And while I don’t entirely agree with Mr. Tatsu Ikeda, I do feel like Apple has made a lot of empty promises with 10.5 server and that iCal Server has been a big part of that letdown for many other sysadmins as well. I have some sympathy for Apple for being bold and bringing something really new to market and doing “the right thing” by actually creating some standards to go with it (CalDAV), but still…